Dietitians’ Top 5 Tips to Eating Well on a Budget

Amid rising costs incurred by inflation and GST, most Singaporeans have turned to basic budget meals at hawker centres to fill their stomachs. But these meals are hardly nutritious, and most typically contain a bigger portion of rice or noodles, with a sprinkling of meat and/or vegetables. 

Food inflation has risen to a steep 8.1% (a 14-year high).  Data from the Department of Statistics (Singapore) shows that the average price of nine out of 10 items of hawker food and drinks rose in the last 12 months. To avoid the high costs of eating out, some Singaporeans have also turned to preparing and cooking their own meals at home.

If you are looking for ways to save money while grocery shopping, our clinical dietitians are here to help! Here are 5 ways to eat well while on a budget.

#1 Buy Basic

For basic staples like rice, avoid falling prey to fancy marketing terms used, e.g. “AAA”, “Thai Hom Mali Rice”, “Fragrant rice”. or “Superior Grade”.

Stick to the basic brown rice or basmati rice, as the nutritional values for all types of rice do not differ significantly for 1 portion each meal. The basic wholegrain rice (brown rice) also has the best nutrition profile, per dollar cost average.  

Meat and seafood are usually the most expensive items on a grocery list. For a good meat cut, go for round or loin cuts, which are lean and less expensive, compared to a ribeye.

Alternatively, cuts of meat for stewing or braising are also cheaper and leaner; stewing/braising are also healthier cooking methods as it uses less oil and more liquid to cook your foods



#2. Go for Frozen or Tinned Foods

Most people have the misconception that ‘fresh is best’, so frozen or tinned food products are often rejected. But frozen or tinned can be equally as nourishing, or more nutritious than fresh!

Some frozen foods may be fresher than if you were to buy fresh and freeze, as the key is when and how the food was frozen. Commercial freezing is generally preferred as it is able to freeze foods in half the time, conserves more nutrients, and retains the food’s taste, texture and colour. 

Frozen and tinned fruits and vegetables also come readily chopped and are less than half the price! Great to use when you are short on time too, or eating foods outside their season.

The key for tinned foods is to choose those stored in water or olive oil; rather than sugar syrup, brine or sauces (less sodium and saturated fat). Frozen or tinned food products also have a much longer shelf life, so you will help to reduce food waste as well.

#3 Include Vegetarian Meals

Vegetarian protein meals can be significantly cheaper than meals with meat or fish products. Replacing meat or fish with protein alternatives like tofu, tau kwa, dried or tinned beans/lentils and eggs makes for a hearty, nutritious and delicious meal too!

If you are not so keen on a full substitute, how about substituting half of the meat with lentils instead? This will work well for dishes such as curries, soups and stews.

Try going vegetarian for 2 to 3 meals each week, and save on animal protein costs! 

#4 Compare Prices (and choose house brands when possible)

Save money on your groceries by avoiding brand names. The costs between a branded food product versus a house brand may be significant, but the nutritional values are similar.

 

Before you buy something, compare prices of similar products across the different brands (including house brands). Cheaper does not necessarily mean inferior as the house brand products could be by the same manufacturer as a brand name too. 

#5 Cook Smarter

Smart devices help to save on cooking time and also allows you to buy cheaper ingredients that require a longer cooking time. Such devices include a pressure cooker, slow cooker, or an airfryer.

 

With a pressure or slow cooker, you can cook a big batch of stew with meat bones, beans, pulses, cheap cuts of meat for stewing (e.g. shoulder, brisket, chuck, rump, or loin), for a flavourful stew that keeps well in the freezer and is easy to reheat. Slow or pressure cooking also helps to make tough food tender, and meals prepared can be nutritious too.

 

As food costs continue to rise, it can be a comfort to know that eating healthy does not have to be a hassle or expensive. You can also work with a dietitian to help you make healthier food choices that work for eating out. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

Senior Clinical Dietitian

View more posts by Dietitian Adelyn Khoo

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